China’s top law-making body has unveiled plans to ensure only “patriots” can govern Hong Kong, as Beijing tightens its grip on the city with changes to the electoral system.
Premier Li Keqiang, addressing the National People’s Congress (NPC), warned the world not to interfere.
The move follows the imposition of a tough security law.
Critics say Beijing is crushing dissent and removing the “one country, two systems” agreement it made with the UK.
Under the agreement, Hong Kong, a former British colony, was allowed to continue with its own legal system and have rights including free speech and freedom of the press.Lord Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, said China’s Communist Party had “taken the biggest step so far to obliterate Hong Kong’s freedoms and aspirations for greater democracy under the rule of law”.
The EU has warned that it may take “additional steps” over the plans announced on Friday.
It called on Beijing to “carefully consider the political and economic implications on any decision to reform the electoral system of Hong Kong that would undermine fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principles”.
Fears that Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems model” was being eroded led to huge pro-democracy protests in 2019. Some turned violent and Beijing imposed the National Security Law, which it said would target “sedition” and bring stability.
Thousands of lawmakers have gathered for the annual NPC meeting in Beijing. The rubber-stamp parliament is expected to also discuss and approve economic growth targets and environmental policies from the central government.
What’s planned for Hong Kong?
NPC vice-chairman Wang Chen announced to the NPC that changes were needed as “the rioting and turbulence that occurred in Hong Kong society reveals that the existing electoral system has clear loopholes and deficiencies”. He said “risks in the system” needed to be removed to ensure “patriots” were in charge.
Premier Li warned that China would “resolutely guard against and deter” interference by external forces in Hong Kong’s affairs.
The week-long NPC will discuss the elections issue and no text has yet been made public, although Mr Wang and media sources did set out some areas to be discussed.
The city’s heavily pro-Beijing electoral committee would get new powers over the parliament, or Legislative Council (LegCo).
The committee would effectively be able to vet all LegCo candidates and elect many of its members, diluting the number directly elected by the public.
Ian Chong, politics professor at the National University of Singapore, told the BBC: “In 2019, the pan-democrats did extremely well [in local elections], which was alarming to the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], because it showed that all their negative rhetoric didn’t seem to be working.
“I think for the CCP, they really want to remove the voices that they don’t like to hear.”
Willie Lam, China analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the AFP news agency that if the new NPC measures passed as he expected they would “effectively wipe out any remaining opposition”.